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Sharp Health News

Gregory Thomas, DO: A passion for palliative care

Sept. 20, 2022

Dr. Gregory Thomas, Sharp Grossmont Hospital

“I think about how my cousin and the family could have benefitted from the support that palliative care provides, and I hope to provide that same support to others living with life-limiting conditions.” – Gregory Thomas, DO.

Growing up in a big family, Dr. Gregory Thomas, DO, a family medicine and palliative care doctor affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital, has fond childhood memories of summer road trips with cousins, visiting relatives across the country.

When it came time for him to attend college, he decided he wanted to see more of the world. So, he spent his undergraduate years in Houston, Texas, and Cape Town, South Africa. After completing his undergraduate degree in sociology, Dr. Thomas moved to the Washington D.C. area and worked at small, nonprofit organizations.

While working with one nonprofit, Dr. Thomas provided education on palliative care to the public and health care professionals. It was at this time he discovered his passion for palliative care medicine.

“When I interviewed for the job at the nonprofit, I had to look on Google for the definition of ‘palliative care,’” says Dr. Thomas. This was before I went to medical school, so I didn’t know a lot about the field.”

He admits most people don’t know what palliative care is.

What is palliative care?
Palliative care is a medical specialty that focuses on caring for patients with an advanced illness, such as cancer or dementia. Palliative care doctors often help with communication between a patient and those caring for them to ensure that a patient’s values are honored when receiving treatment. They also help patients with symptom management, such as pain, shortness of breath, and nausea or vomiting.

According to Dr. Thomas, palliative care is different from hospice care because it can be accessed during any stage of a patient’s disease. Palliative care also provides support for the physical, spiritual, social, and psychological needs of patients and their families.

Hospice care, on the other hand, is for patients whose illness reaches the terminal or end stages. Hospice care is given when the patient or their family wishes to focus solely on physical comfort as the patient approaches the end of life.

“One of my cousins died in his early 30s from colon cancer,” Dr. Thomas says. “My cousin and my family suffered in many ways, but we also used this opportunity to support each other. I think about how my cousin and the family could have benefitted from the support that palliative care provides and I hope to provide that same support to others living with life-limiting conditions.”

Becoming a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine
When Dr. Thomas was working at the nonprofit organization, he attended pre-med college classes in the evenings. He then moved to Philadelphia to attend the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO).

The content students learn in medical school is the same whether they are working to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) or a doctor of allopathic medicine (MD). DOs can specialize in any field of medicine like their allopathic counterparts. “The main difference is there’s an understanding that osteopathic medicine takes a more holistic approach to patient care,” says Dr. Thomas.

He believes the U.S. will soon see medical education become more holistic, with fewer differences between osteopathic and allopathic education. “This is great because we can learn a great deal from each other in our approach to medical education,” he says.

Working for Sharp HealthCare
After completing his education in Philadelphia, Dr. Thomas did a family medicine residency in South Carolina, followed by his fellowship in hospice and palliative medicine in San Diego. He decided to stay in San Diego after graduating from his fellowship because he enjoyed the friendships he made here and fell in love with the city. He became a Sharp palliative care physician in October 2020.

“My time at Sharp has been a very rewarding experience,” he says. “I have felt well-supported in my role as a palliative care physician at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. I’m thankful for my colleagues in their hard work to provide excellent patient care and in their openness to integrative palliative care in their daily work.”

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